- With God, a waiting season is never a wasted season.
- If God always met your expectations, He’d never have the opportunity to exceed them.
- God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials.
Those three great, tweetable quotes came from a sermon delivered in mid-December by Oklahoma megapastor Craig Groeschel. The sermon was from a hard-hitting but hopeful series called When God Doesn’t Make Sense, and this particular message was titled When God Seems Late.
The sermon focuses mainly on John 11:1-44 – the story of the death and revival of Lazarus – and it’s a fantastic message. Groeschel walks listeners through the anguish that Mary and Martha – Lazarus’s sisters – endured as they sent for Jesus (who’d healed dozens of people by this time), only to have Him fail to show up to heal their brother. Not only did Jesus not appear before Lazarus died, He didn’t arrive until four days later.
And at that point, Jesus did the impossible, raising his friend from the dead after 96 hours of decay.
‘Mary and Martha were expecting healing, but Jesus was planning resurrection,’ Groeschel said, making a strong point about God’s preference to sometimes exceed our expectations later, rather than merely meeting them now. It’s a powerful sermon and one we should all hear. Do yourself a favor and check it out online or via podcast.
Now, as astounding as this miracle is to read about and study – as instructive as it is for us in Groeschel’s sermon and others I’ve learned from over the years – I’m not convinced this event was much fun to experience.
Especially for Lazarus.
There’s no doubt that the ability to reanimate the dead is more impressive than the capacity to help sick people get better. But if I were Lazarus, I’m not sure I’d have agreed with Jesus’ decision to do the latter, when He could easily have done the former.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
Imagine knowing that your close friend and mentor has the ability to heal you from a life-threatening illness, and you knew he’s only a few miles away, and that he’s been made aware of your plight.
And he doesn’t show up.
For X-number of days, you suffer through the illness, getting worse and worse, until finally you die.
Now, the Bible doesn’t say what happened to Lazarus’ soul during those four days, but since he was literally a friend of Jesus, there’s good reason to think he went to heaven. What a relief that must have been, after suffering through a horrendous illness! To experience an existence of perfect unity and community, unconstrained by time and space – not to mention pain and suffering – it’s difficult to even begin to imagine how wonderful that would have been.
And then, after four days (whatever that means in eternity), he’s yanked out of that bliss and shoved back into his crude, imperfect human body and called out of the tomb and back to life as a man.
Po’ Lazarus indeed!
As I read this story and put myself in Lazarus’s sandals, a small part of me wants to mutter something like, ‘With friends like Jesus, who needs enemies?’
And as I reflect further on the story, I wonder if similar thoughts occurred to Jesus as well. In Verse 33, He was ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled‘. Could that have been because He saw the devastation that His actions caused Lazarus’s family?
Jesus knew, as He said in Verse 4, that ‘this sickness will not end in death’, but Mary and Martha and their neighbors didn’t. Jesus also knew that this story was ‘for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it’, but that doesn’t mean He was happy about the dreadful impact the situation would have on people He knew and loved.
News of Lazarus’s revivification, not surprisingly, spread like wildfire – and not in an entirely good way. According to John’s Gospel, its electrifying impact on the people was high on the list of reasons the Sanhedrin decided that Jesus had to die.
So not only was the death and revival of Lazarus painful for people Jesus loved, it would also pave the way for a great deal of physical and emotional pain for Jesus Himself, culminating in His own death and resurrection.
Is it any wonder that in John 11:35, ‘Jesus wept’?
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As I researched the Lazarus story in John 11 for this post, I was reminded of the other Lazarus story in Luke 16:19-31. That Lazarus is a fictional character in a made-up story – but could these two Lazaruses (Lazarii?) be connected somehow?
Let’s explore that … next time.
Until then, peace be with you.